Sunday, November 5, 2017

Paganism Has a Creepy Guy Problem

Paganism has a creepy guy problem….and we need to face and address it.  This is a call for looking in the mirror and then having productive conversations.  So, let me talk about what I see, how I understand it, and also my hope.

First, I should be clear that I am talking about men in the Pagan community who are attracted to women.  I don’t know if this situation is also present in men who are attracted to men.  Even if so, it is likely that the dynamics are a bit different.

I believe that Paganism, writ large, is an audacious project…one in which we are establishing the nascent foundations of alternative cultures that are meant to challenge the dominant culture in which we are embedded.  We are striving to re-enchant the world.  We are trying to create ways of living that build positive, caring and meaningful relationships with beings who are non-human (including invisible/spirit beings) and all of the natural world.  We are creating traditions and structures that encourage the development of human potential at all levels of being and inculcating an orientation that holds all aspects of human nature as having sacred value.  We are developing alternatives to the dominant culture that challenge not only gender roles, but the valuation of those roles.  We want to create alternative cultures in which human beings can embrace and develop their full natures and thrive. 

Paganism provides a strong corrective to values in the dominant culture that simultaneously cast sexuality as something morally negative and use a “market” approach to sexuality that leads to objectification of humans, especially (but not exclusively) women.  Paganism has an extraordinary degree of sexual openness.  Within Pagan circles, there is a high level of acceptance of LGBTQ members of the community.  A broad range of sexual orientations and practices are accepted and celebrated as part of human experience.  If it is safe, sane, and between consenting adults, Pagans are generally fine with almost anything.  Female sexuality is fully accepted as a valuable part of human experience and women are supported in claiming and developing their sexuality in a positive way.  Given the misogyny of the dominant culture, this is revolutionary.  In general, Pagans have a strong desire to be sex-positive.

Here’s the bad.  Sexual permissiveness is not inherently sex-positive.  Sexual positivity, at its foundation, requires full consent of all partners.  Any form of coercion is antithetical.  While it is critically important that Pagan women can be fully sexual beings, this can morph into an expectation that they are always going to be sexual.  There seems to be an expectation on the part of some Pagan men that Pagan women are always open to being hit on.  This is a huge problem.  I cannot even count the number of Pagan women who have complained to me about unwanted sexual attention to the point of relentlessness.  And it isn’t just at parties.  Sex is appropriately seen as sacred, but this belief can morph into obnoxious to oppressive behavior when every moment and every context is seen as an opportunity to hit on women. 

Now, there are bad guys who I suspect are drawn to Paganism because they can get away with things in their constant prospecting for women in Pagan circles that they can’t get away with in the dominant culture.  These are the ones who know full well that their attention is unwanted and are doing it anyway.  These people need to be shamed and shunned.  If they’ve been called out and continue, they are not unaware.  But getting rid of these blights would not fix the problem.  I think that a good portion of the instances that I hear about are from men who would be horrified if they understood that their behavior was creeping/freaking women out.

I think a significant root of the problem is that they are not understanding the experiences of women or what we are bringing with us into our interactions in the Pagan community.  First, as the #MeToo campaign made glaringly apparent, there are barely any women in this culture who HAVE NOT been sexually assaulted and/or harassed.  That is part of our lived experience.  For pretty much any woman you are dealing with, you can expect that she has memories of gendered/sexual violence that make up part of her psyche.  Secondly, no matter how “nice” a guy you think you are, all Pagan women are embedded in the dominant culture also and what we know with absolute certainty is that we are all in far more danger from men we know than from strangers.  Violence against women is an epidemic….virtually all of us experience it and we all have mechanisms of trying to protect ourselves. 

So, our histories and our experiences teach virtually all women several things.  Women are in danger from men.  That is not an exaggeration--that is real.  I think most Pagan men want to change that.  Good.  We need your help.  Secondly, much like the most dangerous time for the victim of domestic violence is the moment an abuser realizes his/her victim is going to leave, the most dangerous moment for any woman is when the man who is hitting on her realizes she is not going to have sex with him.  That is when, as a woman, your risk of being assaulted sky-rockets.  It means that for most of us when you are hit on and not interested, it is a fraught exchange and this anxiety is often invisible to men. 

What does that mean?  There are a bunch of tactics that most women know and use to lessen that risk…most of which have to do with indirect ways of communicating a lack of interest/consent.  We try to keep things kind of superficial and flirtatious and avoid having them advance to a real proposition, sometimes by trying to get a third party present or involved.  We try to disentangle without having to directly say “no” to somebody because it is often fraught and frightening to get to the point where you have to be that direct.  (I know some women don't have anxiety being that direct, but many do).  One of the most time-honored and effective but nauseatingly oppressive methods is to assert that you “belong” to some other man (my husband, my boyfriend, see my wedding ring) because it is a proven fact that men will respect the property-rights of other men more than they will respect the autonomy, sovereignty and basic human rights of a woman.  (Just typing this sentence and knowing it is true almost made me vomit and cry simultaneously).  It also means that we psychologically rely on some of the divisions about when we expect to be in contexts where we may be hit on (like at a party or a bar, or going out to dinner with someone), and when we do not expect to be hit on (like at work, or in the grocery, or walking down the street, or in a class on divination, or getting ready for a ritual).  When we are suddenly put in a position where we are dealing with sexual advances in contexts for which we are not prepared, that is often disturbing if not frightening. 

So, suddenly, in a Pagan context, all of the indirect ways of communicating fail.  Even the time honored “I have a boyfriend” doesn’t work because the acceptance of polyamory frequently morphs into an expectation that the woman might be into it.  The expectation is that a woman who is not interested should just say “no,” but that doesn’t take into account all of our experiences, not just in the past, but as soon as we walk out of Pagan spaces.  It doesn’t take into account how much that really requires of many women and the anxiety-load it creates.  And for people who think that it is only men in the dominant culture who react badly and get scary when a woman doesn’t want to have sex with them…dream on.  I’ve seen it.  Additionally, there is not as clear a division about when it is and is not appropriate to hit on somebody, which also increases the anxiety load.  Plus, what many men, including many Pagan men, never seem to understand is the extreme cognitive dissonance that many women live with in which it is flattering to be told that you are attractive and also terrifying…in the same moment.  This is especially important when you consider how the dominant culture trains us to believe that our value is dependent upon being attractive to the same population who will use that attractiveness as an excuse to degrade and assault us.  That’s just a part of the lived reality of being female in this culture.

I believe that most Pagan men don’t want this for any women, especially for their Pagan sisters.  I believe that they, far more than most men, want to see the patriarchy overturned and an end to misogyny.  I think most Pagan men are aware that women are suffering and don’t want that.  I don’t have answers, but I hope that we can have some real conversations that are not about blame, but are about finding ways we can turn Pagan culture into a truly sex-positive culture and maybe provide models beyond ourselves.  Here are some ideas for future thinking.

1.  We need to kill out language and thought patterns of rejection.  The language of rejection suggests that if someone does not want to have sex with you, it is because you are less valuable and in some way it hurts you.  Instead, the default expectation should be that people do not want to have sex with you and if they do, it is because they want to share something with you.   It is easy to say this, but it is harder, in the moment, to stand strong in your center.  As Pagans, I think we need to build and strengthen the understanding that the worth of each human being is not conditional and that we are strong in our center and self-worth.  [As a related project, I think we need to be developing models of intimate relationships that are not erotic because if you are ONLY intimate with people you are sexually involved with, then there is no way to address the issue of feeling like a lack of sexual interest is a rejection of your worth].   

    2.  We need to set up some contextual understandings about when it is and is not appropriate to be hitting on each other.  Much like the Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson exercise for the workplace (imagine you are talking to Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson and treat your female colleague like you would him) we need to set up some shared understanding about what behavior is appropriate when. 
  
3.  We need to find ways to make it safe for people to express desire and facilitate hooking up, but in ways that don’t require women to use behaviors that are potentially dangerous.  Again, putting women in situations where they have to say “no” is potentially threatening.  It also doesn’t take into account a common adrenaline response, which is to freeze.  Not saying “no” is never the same thing as saying “yes.”  I think we need to have some conversations about how we can get assent in ways that are not threatening…especially in situations in which people are likely to remain in community with each other.

EDITED TO ADD:  Based on comments in the Facebook feeds, I want to make a couple of clarifying points.  First, I am not saying that women are not also sometimes creepy...but I am not assuming that the dynamic would be the same, so that is not my topic.  Out of scope is not the same the same thing as denying it occurs.  Point two is similar.  Yes, the world has a creepy guy problem.  Many other contexts have a creepy people problem.  I am Pagan.  I am interested in having the conversations about  how to make the interactions between men and women in Paganism healthier for all parties.  Point three...if your comment in any way resembles, "Not me!  I am shy and afraid of being humiliated!  How DARE you talk about this!  Violence against women is overblown!  What do you mean by creepy any way, feminist."  Your answer...creepy. And I'm not sure you aren't a Russian bot anyway.

In the interest of trying to move things along in a more productive vein.  If any women are willing to put some ideas in the comments.  What would a GOOD exchange look like if a guy was hitting on you and you were not interested?  What would feel safe that does not require the guy to be a full-blown telepath?  

50 comments:

Gwendolyn said...

NOTE: This post is a call to talking about the issues and trying to foster problem-solving conversations (e.g. what does a process of gaining assent in a nonthreatening way look like?) I will NOT permit any personally identifying comments about specific individuals here. That needs to happen in a different forum.

Sarah Lyn said...

Thank you for this post! It is something I also think about. We have a lot of young pagan men in our community trying to unravel the permissive culture and you were able to describe the experience I hear from a lot of pagan women. That is so important to be able to share what is happening from the other side of things.

I know a lot of men are taught not to give up on what they want and/or that women are conquests to be trophied. So we have to find ways of being able to say, "Yo, back off. Now it's creepy." I could do it now. But not before a couple years ago. I always froze. But it's happened to me in the pagan world. Nothing like being at your first ritual and having a guy kiss your neck and then ask you if it was all right.

Jeff Minnich said...

Speaking as a Gay man, I will say that my [limited] contact with other Gay male Pagans has been respectful and friendly, and not what I would consider "out-of-line", at all. That has been my experience.

Thanks for this post.

Lailoken Scathach said...

I believe this advice extends to all orientations not just straight men as emphasized in this article. One of my first experiences of a Meetup in SF was a drunk woman who was very clingy and sexually intrusive, despite my clear signals to leave me alone and moving away from her multiple times she still pursued me, it became so bad that I had to leave the event.

Granted this was one experience and I not the norm, it does give pause to rethink why people attend these events, is it to meet and grow a Pagan circle of friends or for a quick "pick-up".

I also find myself moving away from the Pagan community because of the growing anti-white male language that is permeating some circles.

Good advice, but it extends further then just men - we should make all people feel welcome regardless of sex, gender, race, or tradition.

Gwendolyn said...

Thank you for sharing your experience. I wanted to get the conversation started based on the instances that have been reported to me that I knew I could speak to, but I want us to have a general conversation around what it would really take to address these issues.

Anonymous said...
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RPGMendrol said...
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Rita said...

This is especially complicated in skyclad situations. While we are trying to establish that nudity does not always equal sex, that nudity is about acceptance, rejection of Christian standards, equality before the gods or a number of other ideas, we come to the situation with our societal programming that says you only get naked in mixed company if looking for sex. Add to that the idea of "perfect love and perfect trust" making it seem an actual violation of one's religious ideals to be openly rejecting and the problem becomes more fraught.

I have noticed that some large gatherings have started using hug/no hug stickers on name tags to help people set boundaries. This is helpful, though not a full solution.

Anonymous said...

It is my experience that most of those males and females (yes women behave badly too and sometimes are even more heinous) who continue to behave sexually inappropriately in Pagan circles do so because they hold a belief that all Pagans actively participate in sexual hedonism and that satisfying their hedonistic curiosities and desires comes before anything else including your gods, family, or self-respect. I applaud your article and wish you would consider being a keynote speaker at the 2018 PPD in Raleigh, NC because this is definitely a topic that needs addressed in mass. Maybe you could have them invite you or at least read this very insightful article at morning ceremonies? I can tell you that several families have had pre-teen children traumatized by adult advances under the guise of 'they look old enough', numerous adults that have unwanted attention from both same and opposite sex turn into horrifying experiences once they were caught alone by the person after sunset, and the list goes on.

Samuel Wagar said...

I'm quite sure that there have been times when I've been that "creepy guy". I know there have been times when I've gone to festivals with part of my intention being that I'd get laid (sometimes it has happened, sometimes not), although my interactions with women at events are not principally centred on my dick, at least I hope not.

Having a sex-positive and body-positive community means different things to women than men (from what I have been told by women friends), although there is an overlap. And negotiating our way out of the power differential of the broader culture isn't smooth and easy. I would rather that we kept trying, and didn't decide that a Puritanical reaction (no skyclad work, no sexual symbolism, and continued slut-shaming and body-shaming) was 'safer'. It isn't, and it reduces the autonomy of women.

A conversation we need to keep having.

Anonymous said...

what exactly constitutes a creepy person ,what are the defined actions. Are these actions universal? I think these are individual reactions for each person. it is easy to label some one creepy if you don't find them physically attractive and they are showing interest in you. which is often the case. also many people are inherently socially awkward and may find it hard to communicate with others. why doesn't someone just come up with a glyph or sigil system for the pagan community that helps others to identify what they are, if at all sexually open to. I know that this line of thinking will spark the " I don't like Labels" argument so think of this not all labels are bad, they are there to help us, i.e. caution wet floor think of them as a road sign on your journey.

M Dadtka said...

I was talking to a woman about dating. She said that men are so afraid of being politically correct they don't know how to ask a woman out properly. I am not sure to what she was referring to, but it seems to me that this conversation needs to be had in all facets of our lives. Mysogyny is here. But if we struggle for equality we must struggle for freedom from fear of abuse. Having said that, I will say to the men, no means no, at any time

RPGMendrol said...

So much for "starting a dialogue." - my comment has been deleted.

Gwendolyn said...

Yeah...I was trying to figure out how to do something...namely turn it off for people who don't have their comments linked to a confirmable identity. Didn't work quite right.

Pathfinder said...

I've pulled myself completely out of the dating scene because I'm sick of men trying to get in my pants. I've never had that much contact w the pagans community so I can't speak of that,but in my life I've dealt w a lot of that crap. When I say I'm celebate,I get "What do you do about sex?" crap. It's none of your business I want a true intimate relationship,and if I can have that,then I want nothing.

Second Summit said...

Important topic. Not sure what to contribute. Definitely applauding the recent move toward 'enthusiastic consent' and wondering just what that could look like in our totally-over-the-top-hug-everyone culture. In some other places, a pair of open arms at a distance of a couple or three feet is read as a 'request' and not a 'command' -- and people in those places appear to feel free to say, 'air hugs, only, and thanks!' and then do actually no contact, with warm smiles all around.

In other news, somehow the settings on this blogspot page ONLY permit me to Comment 'as' my Gmail identity -- which is not strictly mine and would be inappropriate. It's Maggie from Archers, wondering if you can reset something so I could use name/url or at least live journal or wordpress or even (ick) Facebook.

Gary said...

Unfortunately, some men hear the term "pagan woman" and immediately assume that she's dancing on a pentagram in a circle of candles, in the woods, naked. That may be their reason for joining a pagan group, but I suspect many of them leave shortly when they find out that's not the case. The ones with harder heads think that sooner or later they'll get to see the "real" (in their minds) pagan rites.

Unknown said...

I think the entire situation could be remedied with an understanding of respect. Respect for self respect for others, respect for community, respect for environment, in that order.
The issue is that we can not move on from respect of self until that is developed, and there are precious few arenas where true self respect is valued and the skills and tools needed to obtain it are taught.
This(respect) is the conversation we are having in our community in a group called Now What Kitsap County in Washington state. Building a community where we all feel safe no matter what side of any aisle you are on.

Joy said...

Keeping it simple is probably the way to go. You know, "I'm not feeling it." Easier said than done, I know, but it's important.

There's a whole constellation of other important considerations here. Honesty's a big one: is he really in an open relationship? Is he going to keep the condom on like you asked? And there's also just being open to reality. If someone says your best buddy was bothering her, it doesn't matter if he's your best buddy, he needs to shape up.

Pagan events can be so wonderful and freeing. It takes work and consciousness to keep them that way.

Daz Brown said...

A very well written and carefully though out piece. As a heterosexual male I fully support everything said and it's actually one of the many reasons I chose a (for the most part) solitary path. As a young man, finding my feet in Pagan circles back in the mid 1980s I became intimidated by the downright aggressive sexual attitude of some older guys who I felt should have been acting as role models. My experiences with women in the same environment were loving but never sexual because that wasn't the way forward for me. It seemed to be considered 'one of those things', perhaps due to constancy and it was dealt with by those women but eventually led to the group .. but eventually led to splintering. And everyone taking their own paths.

I will say that this is only my own experience and I cannot speak for others but in my opinion the issue is all too real - in all of society but our beliefs should allow us true safety.

cern said...

Really well written. I think it is particularly important that we in the Pagan community don't shy away from noting and trying to tackle this issue. Sure, it is an issue beyond the Pagan community. But hey, the Pagan community has been leading the way in terms of tackling issues in society for quite some time now. I see no reason why we can't also lead the way on this.

And guys, that means avoiding all the comments that shut the conversation down. It means not making defensive comments... yeah, not all men. Women know that. What they don't and can't know is which men aren't creepy, predatory or potentially violent..... and that, if you love your fellow human being (women in this instance) means it is an issue specifically for men. If we don't want to be associated with creepy, predatory and/or potentially violent men, then we need to be tackling the things that make it possible for some men to feel that is ok. Challenge guys that behave in this way. Acknowledge that women will sometimes need women only space so they get a bit of respite from having to keep the radar up for men who don't understand 'no'. Raise your sons to strictly ahere to consent, and your daughters to demand consent. Women, I know it is ridiculously cheeky to ask, but please continue to raise these issues, and, if you can, help men to tackle this deeply rooted toxicity in how we're raised to view the world?

Hectuba Hestia said...

Not saying that Pagan gatherings aren't a problem, however, at the circles I have been to, I haven't found this to be the case. I have found that there is a large crossover between the Pagan community and the BDSM community. While I personally haven't had any issues, it is a huge problem in this community. More people have been violated some way. There are a large amount of predators as well. Yes I know where you are coming from. Honestly, I feel the best way men are taught to speak to women are from childhood.

Hannah Nutt said...

Based on experience (and the Facebook comments), I think the bigger issue is a question of expectation. When I go to a ritual, I expect to experience a deeper connection with the Divine, whatever deity/entity is being honored, and potentially platonically with other attendees. If someone came expecting to flirt or have sex and chose me for that activity, I would find that creepy as I am very careful in not giving anyone the impression that I am sexually interested in them. My spouse and I have chosen to avoid Pagan groups with a history of issues with consent and creepy individuals, or who do not allow couples. This has also meant we will not be involved in skyclad work or a group that requires it. We have left non-Pagan groups for creepiness/consent issues, but all of those had clear avenues to report issues, most of which worked. Few of the Pagan groups we looked at have any sort of report mechanism in place, and that disturbs me.

And no, I’m not saying that any guy/girl who hits on someone is creepy. When you make it very clear that you are not interested in someone by telling them that and they continue, it reaches the level of creep. If you are obviously avoiding them (I’m not subtle at all about it!) and they still pursue you, same level of creep.

Something similar to the name tags with no hug/hug sound like the obvious solution, but it saddens me that we would have to go to such a system just to make clear what should be easily clarified through conversation and a little bit of thought.

Chele Renaud said...

I think a part of the problem, especially for the recent "converts" to paganism, is that those who are fleeing more repressive systems may be more attracted to the permissivenness, rather than the spirituality. They are moving away from a tighter method of control. Pagans are seen as more sexually open, and the level of flirting and inappropriate touching at festivities sometimes gets out of hand. People get insulted and angry when they think they're the only one being denied the orgy they're sure is taking place. Women need to be more careful as well, especially as younger women and girls can see it as an excuse for promiscuity. The backlash of the repressive religious and social systems affects everyone. Expectations of behavior need to be made clear, and followed by everyone. And of course, strictly enforced. Bouncers at festivals wouldn't be a bad idea, just to keep everyone honest.

Sally Eaton said...

This is all strategic, and dates from the 1970s, but for what it's worth: My way of turning someone down was simply to say: "I like you, but honestly I'm just not feeling any chemistry with you. It has to go both ways." This worked for me in most situations. Once when someone said: You sleep with other guys - why not me? I had to remind him that this was MY choice, and that HE was not. Then I got a dominant man I trusted to explain why his comment was inappropriate.

Karen Wheeler said...

"I think we need to be developing models of intimate relationships that are not erotic because if you are ONLY intimate with people you are sexually involved with, then there is no way to address the issue of feeling like a lack of sexual interest is a rejection of your worth]."

This is a real key that needs using everywhere for everything. Bullseye!!!
great read and wonderful writing. You stayed right on point. Good for you. From my Black Heart right back to you.

RJ said...

Excellent read, thank you for posting. I believe that you already presented an issue for discussion:

"...cognitive dissonance that many women live with in which it is flattering to be told that you are attractive and also terrifying…in the same moment. This is especially important when you consider how the dominant culture trains us to believe that our value is dependent upon being attractive to the same population who will use that attractiveness as an excuse to degrade and assault us. That’s just a part of the lived reality of being female in this culture."

I believe the #MeToo #IBelieveYou awareness is a start. Not all men harass women, but ALL women have been harassed.

Saying "no" should be easy to do and as easily accepted, if one is capable of disassociating from one's ego. Yeah, right ... we've a long way to go before the human species becomes so enlightened ... maybe just calling out someone on their unfavorable (creepy) actions would be sufficient. I've used brutal honesty as my only recourse and have learned to not react/respond to inevitably being called a number of derogatory names, albeit only when I've felt I was I've felt safe.

AutumnPulstar said...

What constitutes a creepy guy? Since Paganism is allegedly so open, you will find many men who find social situations awkward exploring it as a way to "belong" somewhere in a spiritual context. They may just be looking for conversation and fellowship, but because they are shy, awkward, try a little too hard because they are nervous or have some other trait that others find questionable (in their own minds), they are suddenly "labeled."

JB said...

'Creepy' behaviour is continuing to bother someone who has tried to make it clear they aren't interested without having to come out and say it, which as the article described can be very stressful and sometimes dangerous.
These 'not interested' cues can include giving one word answers, trying to get someone else's attention, busying yourself with something else e.g. your bag, your drink, whatever you have in your hands ect, avoiding eye contact and so on.
Also, 'trying again' on a different occasion after already being rebuffed is 'creepy'.

'Creepy' behaviour can also be more obvious, such as leering (talking to someone whilst staring at their breasts for example) and trying to get someone alone.

I cannot speak for other people but I have had 'creepy' experiences where the person who was making me feel uncomfortable was conventionally attractive and seemed socially confident. And yet they continued to persue me even after i had been abundantly clear that I wasn't interested. I did have to come out and say in that situation "no thank you, please leave me alone" and then seek refuge with some of my friends in a crowded area with my heart hammering for the rest of the day.

Your glyph idea is interesting but would probably be tricky to try and implement across the whole community. Also I don't think they would ultimately address the underlying problem.
Personally I think respect and understanding are the way forward. Rather than viewing people as conquests view them as people to get to know. Like the suggestions in the article, rather than assuming that people want to have sex and are rejecting you because are 'less than', assume they don't want to and if they do they have decided they want to share something with you.

Having honest and active conversations about consent within the community could also be helpful to bringing about change. I might bring it up as a topic of discussion for a moot I attend.

This is a really great article, thank you for posting.

Ryan Dodd said...

I really appreciate the points raised here. I don't deal with the wider community much simply because I'm more a solitary practitioner, but one thing I've noticed on any Facebook groups, is there's a large amount of... uncomfortable comments. Especially in the chaos magic group I watch.

It's important in a more... open society to have more open dialogue. And that means being able, especially as males, to realize that such things require understanding that socially, if we're going to be open, we have to have the respect that comes with such trust.

Kirk White said...

I think a key problem with the dominant culture as a whole is that only "no" equals "no". The default is assumed to be "maybe" or "yes". So every woman in that bar is a "maybe" until she says "no". Then a guy hits on a woman until she clearly says "no". And our dominant society teaches men that tricks to keep from getting a clear "no" are fair game. Drunk or unconscious, or due to feeling obligated, or even intimidated and fearful.... if the guy can keep her from saying "no" then the default is still "maybe" or "yes". (And let's not even start with the media's portrayal of "no" really meaning "yes", the guy just has to be more forceful, a la Han Solo and Leia crap).

IMO, Pagans as cultural innovators need to teach our communities and kids that the default is "no". No one wants to have you to have sex with them unless they clearly say "yes". The default is "no" so if you say hello and they ignore you = no. If you express interest in any way and they don't answer = no. If they are drunk or unconscious = no. Only "yes" = "yes". In the Burner community, which faces this even more than the Pagans because their gatherings are sex-positive, sensual positive, plus have significant altered states, their big debate is whether the "yes" needs to an Explicit Verbal Yes (EVY) or can people just vibe it by non-verbal cues. They are leaning towards EVY in the Boston Burner community.

My festival in Vermont has classes and workshops and discussions on consent every year. These classes are scheduled during prime workshop time with no competing classes or activities. Every year we find something more to discuss, nuances, etc. I recommend this for all festivals and groups. We are magick. We can change society. We need to start right now.

Thank you Gwendolyn for starting this thread.

Sean said...

I would loosely define'creepy' as a person who acts in a manner that is perceived as threatening, often in a way that is hard to express except by using some form of the phrase, "just creeps me out."

Which is why it is such a hard issue to deal with practically. Discussions and measures to try to get rid of"creepy" are definitely a good start, but I believe that it is the duty of all to be mindful first. We need to get the truly creepy people to realize that our Ways are not for them, and thus have them weed themselves out first.

Much easier said than done, but my Way is that hope will win out.

Blessed Be,

Sean

Wiccan Priest/Traditional Witchcraft initiate.

Cat Carter said...

What would a "good" hitting-on no-thanks interaction look like?

Person offering: "Would you like to [fill in the blank]?
Person declining: "No, thanks."
Person offering: "Cool, blessed be!"

Sounds so simple, doesn't it? But Person Offering would have to actually use his or her--usually his, as the article points out--words, and, for choice, ONLY the words. The words would have to do the work, and they couldn't be delivered with sides of standing too close, bodily contact (yes, Joe Biden, this includes shoulder rubs), ominous or angry tones, or any of the non-word stuff that so often accompanies a creepy approach. Person Declining would have to feel safe and comfortable going with, "No, thanks" without adding, "I'm married and monogamous", "Not tonight", "Sorry", or any of the add-ons that might imply that he or she (usually she) has to apologize or mitigate the "no, thanks." And the "cool, blessed be!" or equivalent has to be for real. The person offering has to actually know, and actually believe, that Person Declining's right to decline to share his or her body totally trumps Person Offering's right to share that body, and his or her body language and tone have to reflect that. No angry looks, no "well, fine, bitch, have a nice life!", no under-the-breath mutters, no talking trash about Person Declining later on.

That's the kicker: that this is not something most people can fake. If you're a person who believes that people (usually women) "owe" you something for attracting your notice or arousing your interest, that tends to show up in the offer. That's a major component of an empirically creepy offer: the looks, tone, gestures, and general body language that says, "I am not happy taking no for an answer [because I don't actually believe you have a right to say no to me], you have some obligation to make me happy, and it is not safe for you to do something I'm not happy with."

Lady Deirdre said...

I am Lady Deirdre. I've been a Pagan since 1972, when I was initiated into a Gardnerian Coven in Louisville, Kentucky. The next summer, my husband and I took a belated honeymoon to New York City. We had made arrangements to meet Ray Buckland at his museum. When we got there, he wasn't there. I sat down and cried. One of Lady Theos' children was working at the museum. She called her mom, who called Ray. He then called us at our hotel and asked us to attend a lecture that he was giving that evening and then to spend the night at his house. We accepted. During the night, I got up to go to the bathroom. When I came out of the bathroom, Ray came up to me, grabbed me in a very inappropriate place, and tried to kiss me. I smacked him and he backed off. This "creepy male" stuff has been going on a long time. When Ray passed away recently, it really upset me to see how m any of the younger Pagans idolized him. He was a letch, not a saint.

Andrea said...

How a conversation muight go:
"I'm interested in connecting sexually with you"
"I'm not"
"OK then"
END
Works fine for all genders and sexual preferences

Sigwynn Reid said...

Turning sex into a healthy conversation is going to be hard for both men and women, because the lack of balance and equality has been out of what for so long. One thing that I found is having become a pagan about 5 years ago, is that the idea of sacred femininity, and females as an individual power unto themselves was a HUGE revelation for me, something I'd never even imagined. So first, cudos to the pagan community of both men and women that recognize this and have made it possible for others to recognize. Second, yes, the creepy guy problem still needs work, in all forms of community in which men and women interact. As a woman, then, here is what I would ask of men: take any answer that is not a clear "yes" as a clear "no". This means, if she demures, or seems like she didn't understand that it was a proposition, or makes reference to having something else to do - those are all NO. We are indirect exactly because of what the author indicates, because men who are turned down may feel their manhood is called into question and that puts us in danger. I cannot overstate how common this is, when even turning down an offer of a drink in a bar gets a woman called bitch or worse, is followed to her car, or ends up in a dude's "posse" harrassing her all night, or any of a multitude of other aggressions, and that is in the better scenarios when she DOESN'T suffer outright assault. #2, "no thanks" or "no" (or demures) it does NOT mean, "no not right now, but ask me again in 10 minutes or 10 days, because I might change my mind" That is another threatening behavior to us. #3m context is everything. Be smart of the time and place you make your invitation or proposition - if she is upset or distraught, or leaving a funeral, for gods' sake, keep yourself to yourself. This is perhaps particularly dicey online: if a woman posts a self on her own page, or of herself and her cute best friend, do NOT take that as an invitation to your proposition, that is sexual objectification at its worst. If you don't know a woman in person, and you are interest, start with a dialogue, try to get to know them first, before asking for a number or a date. Thank you, men for being willing to hear, and thank you Gwendolyn, for the article, and starting this conversation.

Rosanna Tufts said...

Back in the 1980s when I was still new to all of this, I encountered the phrase, “Competent Woman, Fluffy Man.” Because this is a culture where women are encouraged (and even expected) to have leadership roles as Priestesses, it tended to foster a dynamic, at least in couple-relationships, where the man was more passive and the woman was calling all the shots. That pattern has been the bane of my life, more than having to deal with unwanted sexual advances has been. Because I discovered, over time, that it both disempowers the man and exhausts me.

bluefirewitch said...

I think part of this is a leadership problem. At Pagan events, there's often a lack of leadership or expectations set by leadership about how people should behave. This often leads to people bringing cultural aspects from the main culture, male sexual aggression, to a place where it isn't welcome. Leaders need to do a better job in making sacred space safe and welcoming to women. It's a leader's job to set the culture of the group. When activity like this is allowed or even encouraged, it creates a toxic environment which further widens the gap between the genders. It becomes an exercise of cultural control where creepy men seek to perpetuate their inappropriate behavior and see it as some sort of challenge to create a space where that is allowed. Leaders should instill group values that include treating sacred space as a safe space and not welcome members or guests who seek to undermine that. They should also empower members to police themselves so they can root out or quash the behavior. A man who does something "creepy" should be taken aside and given a warning, If it happens again, they will not be asked back.

Men also need to do a better job of protecting their Sisters in the faith. If you see something, say something, it's often easier for a man to tell another man his behavior is inappropriate because of the cultural excuses given to dismiss the objections of women. ("Ice Queen," "Stuck Up," "Overreacting,") If other men present don't tolerate the behavior, then the the group culture norms are set by a member of the man's own gender that he can't easily dismiss.

jeffreynbrown said...

I wanted to express my deep appreciation for this post,Gwendolyn.
Add a pagan man, I know that I've been a "creeper" at times. I don't want to make my sister's feel uncomfortable. I don't want to be that monster. Posts and articles like this almost always help. As a socially awkward person, I often don't pick up on the social cues involved here but really want to learn. As such, I would like more detailed discussing involving actual scenarios.

With deep regards,
"Creeper in recovery" :-)

Ameth Jera said...

The words are," Thank you, but I'm not interested." That is your right and there is no need to qualify it.

Skipper K. said...

Thank you for creating this articulate piece of such an important conversation--one that needs to keep going. As I read the comments I felt the heaviness of #metoo settle over me, so I'm off to lighten a bit, but with people like you speaking up, I am hopeful that we will get to a point where we can happily cavort with those who are safe, without having to be on guard, without misunderstandings, with joy and pleasure, as the norm.

IshtarsDragon said...

I do not tend to go to spiritual gatherings with the attitude that I'm going to get laid. Perhaps because of this, I never have had sex with anyone at any pagan gathering I have attended for over 20 years. It just isn't on my list of priorities when I am in a spiritual frame of mind. This is the failing of the New Age movement... everything tends to be sexually charged and sexually tinged. This does not make it bad or good, but is a distraction and stumbling block when it comes to spiritual development. The New Age movement- Wicca in particular, 'sidelines' men in general in ceremonies and rituals. This is a great loss to the movement, for men have just as much to offer spiritually as women. There can be no complete anything without both sides: male and female, dark and light. I digress. Predators are predators, whethr they are pagan or posing as pagan in order to get sexed at an event. Predators by nature are opportunists. If you think the ratio is high in the New Age movement, then check out the Christian sects. This is not to say it isn't worth mentioning, for it is if you hope to build anythin decent in this spirituality. In some cases, men are not solely to blame. I have gone to gatherings and sat passively as naked women danced just inches away around the fire.. have had their various body parts pushed right up to my face. For a predator, this is heaven I'm sure. Women need to think about th messages the are sending - and pagan men should HELP the women police the problem participants that emerge. This is where I fault the males totally... they seem to have no balls. I've seen women punched by guys after events as they loaded up in the car, and the guys present just sat on their hands of looked the other way. I have watched this play out many times over the 20+ years and I'm always the only guy who stands up. I was actually thrown out of a few for standing up to protect the woman. So EVERYBODY needs to get their shit together on the same page and support the folks who actually give a crap about their faith and those they enjoy it with, and put a plan in action. As you have said, no one wants to talk about it unless thy can get a victim badge for doing so. I raised two daughters pagan, and that is always on the back of my mind at these events when these problems surface.

necroignis said...

are you really this silly? are you aware how many female friendly goddess icons are out there? Freya is a warrior goddess from the Asatru faith, the celtic path has Morrigan, the greeks have Athena, maybe the issue is with teaching how to deal with creepy people in general and not assume rejection is a bad thing at all, there are plenty of fish in the sea, someone being creepy is just someone being creepy

Yewtree said...

Hi there!

Glad you raised this. A couple of years ago, a friend and I edited a book, Pagan Consent Culture.

It goes through how to be sex positive without bring sex pressuring, how to celebrate consent and sovereignty within various Pagan traditions, and much more.

Bernard Rizzo said...

First, for context... I am a cis-white somewhat het, middle aged, middle class male. You need to know the lens I am looking through. Boy, Oh Boy!!!! I saw this happening over 30 years ago. That was one of the reasons I began to practice solo and even though I feel part of a larger community now, I still practice solo. So, there I am, age 24 or so, deciding that I am going to explore my interest in paganism. I came to it like many others, first through fiction and then through exploration and then from internal feelings. Well, I am a Brooklyn boy and you don't find much of that there, back then. I go to "The City" and seek out some kindred spirits. I meet someone who suggests I take a "Wiccan 101" class at the local "mojo shop" in the East Village. I go. I go with the intentions of expanding my spirit, seeing into the other world and connecting with "the God and the Goddess" (my thoughts were a little different back then on Deities). I sit in this class with mostly women and a few men. The instructor goes around the room asking everyone why they are here. For the most part, the women wanted to explore a relationship with the Goddess. Some were interested in Magic and in power. I gave a heartfelt response on how this felt right to me and that is was a path I was called on. Then came the rest of the men. Incoherent responses ranging from "seeking power" to my all-time favorite... One rather large, neckbeardy, nebbish who merely said he wanted to "work sky-clad" and kept asking when we would be working sky-clad. I looked around and the few men in the class had a lean and hungry look on their faces. I look at this guy and say, "Dude, if you want to pick up chicks, go to a bar. This isn't the place" (I could have used a better term than chicks but I was 24). I was so turned off by his thirst for sex and what I saw echoed in every other guy's face that, after a few classes, I just stopped going. Hey, I dated. I liked women but I also LIKED women. As in hanging out with them and knowing them as friends. Every time I attended a gather of like minded people, there was always one or two men who you knew were there just to get laid. I walked away. This wasn't what I wanted. I came back sometime a bit over two years ago... BOOM!!!!! Still there. I have no answers. I am just perplexed and tired and disappointed that our species hasn't made it as far as I would like. Especially in this world of ours where we are supposed to be more evolved, more accepting, more hungry for the equality that we thought came from ancient cultures that were not patriarchal. Sometimes, I despair for all of us.

Autumn said...

I think the idea of a glyph or sigil that would mean that the person was not looking for sex or new partners would be an excellent idea. Anyone could wear it, male or female, If you see it you know that while this person will gladly talk to you and circle with you, hang out and be friends, they just are not there to find any kind of sexual partner.

It isn't a label because anyone can choose to wear it, they never have to explain that they're in a relationship, or not, they don't have to explain that they're gay or heartbroken or working to get back with someone else or choosing to be celibate or or or...

It also avoids the whole patriarchal point at a wedding ring and say you're taken, it avoids the whole you might be poly, you might be open to exploration...it's just a visible sort of stop sign that everyone could respect or run the risk of getting shunned,escorted out, whatever.

Shannon said...

Quite frankly I have been shamed by other women in community when I expressed my discomfort with a guy that came to a hands on healing event and got creepy. Made me feel even more unsafe that my sisters would not hear me.

Anthony OConnell said...

Wow. This is the first time I've read your work. You are thorough.

I'm still trying to figure out the fine line, or no line, between a man's natural inclination to admire the beauty of a woman versus being seen as a "creepy guy". I guess it's not all that complicated. If the man sees that his attraction for a woman is making the woman uncomfortable, he should act as if he is not attracted to her beauty.

Gypsy Haught said...

Going to several festivals I agree. This seems to be the norm; sad to say. I look more towards the family friendly festivals now. Bright blessings

Gwendolyn said...

I apologize to everyone about how long it took for me to post your comments. I had switched it so that I wouldn't get anymore anonymous comments based on some really abusive nastiness (go figure). And then didn't see that I need to check a different queue and approve them. Sorry!